Dispatch 3 [2014]

03/30/14 AT 21:56:10

Small Efficiencies Add Up

I'm not telling you anything you don't know when I say that 340 miles is a long way.  It's a long way in a car!  Your going in a boat.  With no motor.  If you're among the best of the best with top notch equipment and training, it will take you over a day and half of constant work to get there.  For most mortals it will take closer to 3.5 days. 

You are racing other paddlers.  But more importantly, you're racing the clock.  Maybe you are trying to improve on last year's time.  Maybe you are trying to set a record.  Maybe you're trying to join the "50 Hour Club" or make the Awards Ceremony (7pm Friday night) or just beat the 88 hour deadline.

The clock shows no mercy.  You can beg, plead and pray, but it keeps on ticking.

Also without mercy are the laws of physics.  You can try to fight them or marginalize their significance but it's a sucker play. 

FACT: There is a cost to you for every ounce of weight you transport from Kansas City to St. Charles. 

Someone smarter than me could work the math and tell you how much energy is required to move an ounce 340 miles on the Missouri River in 50 hours... or 70...or 88.  What about 100 pounds?  What about 300 pounds?  The costs get high. 

Think about this.  If you had to jog 5 miles right now, would you strap a cinder block to your back?  Of course not.  But for some reason, people think that a boat is different.  Something about it floating, maybe?  I don't know.  But every extra ounce you carry on your boat will cost you.  Time and pain. 

There is a temptation for rookies to carry way too much in this race.  You stare at all your gear in the garage and think, yeah, I might need that... and that... and that...

But if you realize that everything you add to your boat means a delay to your finish, you might think differently.

If you have a physically present ground crew you have a huge advantage.  You can treat the race like several short races.  What do you need to get 23 miles from Lexington to Waverly?  Surely not as much as you needed to go the 50 miles from Kaw Point to Lexington. 

Knowing what you need and when comes from doing some long training runs and learning what it takes.  After some training, you'll know how much water and food you'd need to go 23 miles. 

Some ground crews prepare this way.  They have a bag ready for their team to grab at each checkpoint that has exactly what they need to make the next rendezvous.  And they take everything out of the boat that they no longer need.  Do you need to carry your flashlights from Kaw Point to Lexington?  Do you need your sunscreen paddling at night from Miami to Glasgow?  Maybe it sounds silly but getting those pounds out of the boat makes the boat ride higher in the water, displacing less water, making each of your precious paddle strokes move you a tiny bit farther down the river.   

Want an easy way to get 10 pounds out of your boat and make it significantly lighter?  Lose 10 pounds.  Most of us could afford to lose 10 pounds.  I know I am still trying to lose about 10 right now that I added this winter.  And the double benefit of losing the weight is you'll be in better condition AND have a lighter boat.

One of the few things I remember from high school physics is that sound=energy.  In other words, energy is required to produce sound.  In the case of a motor, sound is wasted energy.  The louder something is as it converts energy into work, the less efficient.  What does this have to do with paddling?

Every boat has that sweet speed where the hull operates best.  Usually, exceeding that speed results in significantly more noise.  Next time you're in your boat, test it out.  Paddle really hard and you'll start to see white water breaking around your bow.  Your paddle will also create noisy water with each aggressive stroke.  If you could chart the energy you're spending vs. the return in increased speed you'd be very disappointed.  After your boat hits that sweet speed where you're fast and quiet, there is very little return on investment in trying to go faster. 

Learning a proper paddle stroke will also aid efficiency.  There are myriad videos and threads about single and double bladed paddle stroke technique.  Take a look.  But also take a listen.  The difference between a good stroke and a bad one can often be determined with the eyes closed.  A poor technique is usually loud which means wasted energy. 

No stroke is 100% quiet.  Of course you will hear your paddle move water.  But learn proper technique and you'll go farther with less effort than the guy that doesn't do the research.

You will learn when your boat is in that groove where it's at the most efficient speed that is sustainable for you and your partner.  The best paddlers are paddling the same stroke rate at the start that they are at the finish.  Their overall speed is consistent throughout the 340 miles.  You should shoot for the same goal.  Don't try to go 9mph day 1 just to be struggling to go 5mph day 2.  Find that speed that works for you.  Dial it in and ride it to St. Charles.

We talked previously about staying in the boat.  Efficiency at each resupply stop you make is of huge importance.  A common refrain of paddlers after the race is to enumerate all the time they lost at each checkpoint.

"Our finish time was 63 hours.  But we did the math and we know we wasted at least 8 hours on shore.  We easily could have been done in 55.  We are going to try for the 50 hour club next year."

Why have the regrets?  You should treat shore like it's hot lava.  Move quickly and do what you need to do and then back on the conveyor belt.  The exception would be exhaustion where you need some sleep to clear your head. 

Food and Drink

Nobody can tell you what to eat and drink out there.  They can only tell you what works for them.  But there are some basic guidelines to know.  Most folks understand what dehydration is and that you need to keep your fluid intake up so that your muscles and brain can perform optimally.  But many people do not know that too much water, without supplementing your electrolytes, can be as dangerous, if not more so, than dehydration. 

When you tax your body and sweat to cool yourself you are losing water and electrolytes.  Replacing just the water will eventually end your race.  You'll either bonk out or have severe cramping or possibly much worse.  Be sure that you are getting enough fluids AND electrolytes.  There are electrolyte supplement drinks like Gatorade and a thousand others.  Those are generally all fine.  But you can also get all the electrolytes you will need just from eating. 

You should think of your body as a machine.  You have to keep it fueled or it will stop working.  Bad cycles of eating can lead to having to quit the race.  It often can look something like this.

The paddler starts out, excited and pumped.  Races hard day 1, drinking gatorade and water...but not eating much.  By mid day his energy is low and he feels nauseous.  Now he REALLY doesn't want to eat.  He keeps sipping his water and gatorade but it makes him feel sick.  His energy flags.  He is barely paddling anymore.  He makes it to Waverly and needs help walking up the ramp.  He quits.

Understand that you are burning a tremendous amount of calories moving you and your boat down the river.  If you get behind on replenishing those calories your body will start to weaken.  You'll feel sick and feel tired and will eventually have to end your race.

You should eat consistently throughout the race.  It should not resemble a "breakfast, lunch and dinner" scenario.  Instead, you will want to nibble all day long.  Think of your food intake like keeping a campfire going.  You wouldn't wait until the fire was almost out and then dump a truckload of wood on the embers.  Instead you'd throw smaller logs on at regular intervals to keep it burning at its hottest.

There's a temptation to go to a sports store and buy lots of high tech food and syrups and powders.  And those have their place.  But the bulk of your diet should just be normal food.  Real food.  It's not a time to eat celery and kale.  It's a time to eat salt and fats and carbs.  This is the week you can eat a double cheeseburger and not feel guilty.  Or half a pizza.  Or an entire bag of potato chips.  That fat will burn up nicely and be converted to your next 5000 paddle strokes.  My favorite is salty, oily peanuts.  You can take a mouthful and paddle for miles. 

But don't take someone else's food advice.  Try stuff out on your training runs.  You should have an idea of how your body will react to food.  But NOT eating is NOT an option.  That's an early trip home.

Definitely you should try to avoid any drinks or food that use high fructose corn syrup.  I don't let that stuff in my house anymore.  It's great if you're in the food business and want to increase your profit margin, but if you're an endurance athlete, it's your enemy.  It's difficult to digest and we see folks with stomach problems out there that we can trace right to HFC.  The market is catching on and you see many products now that no longer contain it.  Many of the "Throwback" sodas now have real sugar and make for great energy boosters out there.  Check it out at the grocery store.  They make real sugar pepsi, mountain dew, Dr. Pepper, Sierra Mist and more.  Try one and you'll remember what pop used to taste like back in the 70s.  Before HFC. 

Another thing to consider while we've got 3 months is your paddle.  Upgrading to a lightweight, bent shaft single blade or a lightweight carbon or hybrid double blade can be an instant finish time slasher.  If you've never seen or held one, make a point to go to one of the early races on the calendar.  There's one in April and then a whole parade of them start after that.  Enter a few and look at the paddles folks are using.  After the race ask someone to borrow theirs and take it for a few figure eights on the water.  You'll be amazed at the difference it can make.  Short of a boat upgrade, a paddle upgrade can be one of the biggest difference makers.  The paddle is your interaction with the water.  It's the tool you'll use most during those days out there.  You wouldn't run a marathon in cowboy boots.  Choose the right paddle for the job.  This is an ultra marathon canoe race.  It requires a different paddle than what you'd use for those college weekend rent a canoe float trips... where nobody paddles anyway.

We've covered a bunch but there is much, much more.  We're about 98 days away.  Lots of time to get things dialed in but definitely time to start. 

Be sure to check the roster and get your boat number squared away if you haven't yet.  (thanks to all who did)  And also forward this email to your partner and remind him or her to sign up asap so we can get the roster finalized. 

Please also remember our benefit for Missouri River Relief.  All money from the merchandise on the website goes to benefit them.  100% every dime.  Shipping is free as well. 

I should also recommend again the book by Stephen Jackson about how to finish the 340.  All proceeds from the book go to River Relief as well.  And the book is a fantastic resource that goes in depth on every facet of the race.  You'll devour it.  You can find it at  Just type MR340 in the search box.  Paperback and E-reader versions available.


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